When you get a traffic ticket, what does your instinct say to do next? You hop online or open up the checkbook and pay the fine without much of a second thought. What many people don’t realize, however, is that by paying these fines, they’re admitting guilt – and increasing the chances their license will be suspended under Wisconsin’s points system.

The basics of the points system

Most people know Wisconsin has a points system for traffic violations, but we often get questions about exactly how it works. At its most basic, any time a driver is convicted of a moving-traffic violation, they get demerit points. Demerit points are bad – the fewer you have, the better. How many demerit points a driver gets is based on the severity of the violation.

You can see a full list of violations here, but we’ve pulled a few examples to show how it escalates:

  • Not having your license on you – 0 points
  • Obstructing traffic – 2 points
  • Speeding 1-10 mph over the limit – 3 points
  • Failure to give proper signal – 3 points
  • Speeding 11-19 mph over the limit – 4 points
  • Inattentive driving – 4 points
  • Speeding 20 mph or more over the limit – 6 points
  • Attempting to elude an officer – 6 points

If, over a 12-month period, you have a regular driver license or CDL and rack up 12-16 demerit points, your license will be suspended for two months. Seventeen to 22 points is a four-month suspension, 23-30 points gets you six months. Hit above 30 demerit points in a 12-month period and you’re facing a yearlong license suspension.

How does this tie back to paying your fine? Well by paying your fine, you’re waiving your right to contest the accusations and admitting guilt. This means you now have a moving-traffic violation conviction, and in turn, get dinged with the predetermined number of demerit points.

Reducing demerit points

These demerit points can quickly add up. A couple speeding violations and a distracted driving fine, and suddenly you’re dealing with a suspended license. There are a few ways to minimize demerit points however. One method is to take a traffic safety course, which reduces your demerit points by three – but you can only do that once every three years.

The other option is to fight the charges. Don’t take the ticket and pay the fine right away. Instead, challenge the accusations. A criminal defense attorney can help with this process, pushing back against the allegations in an effort to reduce, or in some cases even dismiss, the violations.

This helps you avoid a license suspension due to demerit points, and can also potentially reduce fines, possible jail time and other impacts on your life.

Before you pay that fine, remember: you have another option.